I gushed over Filbert’s Chronographic earlier this year because of its humble attitude toward music and lyrics. Cold Country‘s Missing the Muse EP reminds me of Filbert, because band leader Sean McConnell’s high tenor sounds like Daniel Gutierrez’s and the folky arrangements have an earnest, plaintive feel. The chamber-folk on Missing the Muse has a ragged, woodsy edge that sets it apart from pristine soundscapes like Bon Iver and well-produced hoedowns like Babel, although the album doesn’t stray far enough to alienate fans of those works.
The climactic finish of opener “What It Takes” features a fuzzed-out electric guitar dueling with a smooth harmonica, rumbling drums, glockenspiel, and distorted bass. The cavernous rumbling of the percussion keeps it from turning into a garage-rock tune and instead places it as an expansive, dramatic folk track. Even with the tune played out on a large screen, the tune feels intimate. That’s the primary tension in each of Missing the Muse‘s five tracks: the titular tune features an excellent guitar solo but carries a very personal sense of sadness; “My Bird of Paradise” is built on Fleet Foxes’ gentle guitar and harmonized vocals and also features a bass riff. The big arrangements never give way to an impersonal front and protect against being too hopelessly introspective. It’s a pretty impressive feat.
If you’re a fan of chamber-folk arrangements, then Cold Country’s Missing the Muse is required listening. These aren’t Mumford and Sons stomp-alongs, and they aren’t trying to be. The tensions that McConnell plays with are perfectly enough for fascinating listening, thank you very much.
The great thing about EPs is that there’s no reason that all of the songs can’t be excellent. When working with 10-15 songs, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t appeal to someone, but three songs can be crafted to near-perfection. And so it goes with Matt Carter’s Daylight EP: the tunes are expertly written, arranged, performed and recorded. Carter applies to the Ray LaMontagne school of singer/songwriters: the more romance can be piled into one tune, the better. “For You” introduces Carter’s lithe voice, with just a touch of LaMontagne grit, over gentle acoustic guitar, delicate piano, upright bass, and swooning violins. It is as gorgeous as you might imagine.
Carter doesn’t let up with “From a Payphone Stall” or the title track: both frame Carter’s vocal melodies in arrangements that have as little to do with dissonance as possible. These are beautiful, carefully constructed tunes: instead of coming off smarmy or James Blunt-ish, they are delivered with assurance and confidence. Carter knows what his strengths are, and he plays to them perfectly here, creating memorably gorgeous songs. I’m looking forward to much more from Matt Carter, as he has put a lot of skill on display here in just over 10 minutes.